f/8 and Be There
Fred Lynch

Future of Main Street - 1980

Posted Wednesday, November 4, 2015, at 12:00 AM

Aug. 3, 1980 Southeast Missourian

Future of Main Street viewed bright as ever

By Sally Wright Owen

Every town had one.

Three-quarters of a century ago, it was something right out of "The Music Man," trolley cars, the Wells Fargo wagon, ice cream parlors with shiny marble counters, the mercantile, scroll-back benches for resting and reminiscing, cobblestone streets and gaslights.

Ideas were born there, and dreams were nurtured there.

Main Street, U.S.A.

Then progress began to move too rapidly. The old gave way to the new. Main Streets, like the proud bisons of the Great Plains and the steamboats, began to disappear.

But not in Cape Girardeau.

Main street has always been an integral spoke in the city's merchandising hub, and its future now appears brighter than ever, say members of the business community located along the primary two-block thoroughfare of the street.

The wide-based speculation about Main street's future, particularly in regard to commercial growth in the western portion of the city, has raised concern among many persons that the area may, after more than 100 years, lose its luster.

Not so, merchants emphatically say, adding that the area is on the threshold of even greater growth and development. The spirit of working toward the realization of new goals is apparent.

Thirty-one establishments located from Broadway and Main to just south of Independence and Main were questioned by The Missourian about future plans.

Only two indicated a firm commitment to move to the west side of the city in the West Park Mall now under construction.

Two non-apparel stores are negotiating for mall space. One, however, will likely maintain its Main street facility as well because of high business volume there.

Libson Shops, which will operate a mall store, will also maintain its present store on Main street. Miss Dolly Schlue, manager, said the Main street store is the leader in volume sales among the clothing chain.

"We're fortunate to have lots of nice customers," she said, "and we fully intend to stay at our Main street location as well."

A branch office of Colonial Federal Savings and Loan will file relocation papers to move, according to an official of the firm. That move had been anticipated since a bank hearing here last spring into First National Bank's proposal to locate its main facility in the mall.

Between $12 and $15 million in retail sales is recorded annually by businesses in the two major blocks of Main street.

Business owners interviewed shared the consensus that their decision to remain on Main street is because of a feeling that customers can be better served in the present locations and the belief that the cost of installing stores in a new development is economically prohibitive at this time.

About 60 percent of the structures in the two-block area are locally owned by the merchants. Many of the buildings are debt free.

The oldest business on Main street

One of Main street's "institutions" is the Buckner-Ragsdale Co., which, with the exception of the Walther Furniture Co., is the oldest business establishment in continuous operation here. The firm pioneered ladies ready-to-wear here; at the time it was founded 63 years ago, other stores carried yard goods, and there were seamstresses but dresses "off the rack" were unheard of.

The store has come a long way since that time, and R.E.L. Lamkin Jr., its president, believes there is a strong future on Main.

"I feel that with the quality of stores we have on Main and with parking availability, we will remain a viable part of the community," he said.

The store last July completed an extensive and interior renovation project.

Lamkin said he would like to see the realization of a proposed redevelopment program along Main and Spanish streets, as well as seeing a portion of Main north of Broadway made more useful to the community.

Lamkin's father, the late Robert E. Lee Lamkin, was regarded as the "dean" of Cape Girardeau merchants. He became a part of the city's business history in 1907 when he became associated with Buckner's.

And Lamkin feels the same optimism about the city and Main street as his father. "We've seen many businesses come and we've seen the town grow," he commented. "We feel we've been a part of that growth, and will continue to be."

Hecht's Store was founded 69 years ago by Louis Hecht, who now resides in Las Vegas. Operation of the store is now under direction of his son, Martin D. Hecht, who finds his father's enthusiasm for Main street contagious.

"Our downtown is unique from others all over America in that we have never had rows of empty buildings," Hecht says. Another major reason for optimism now is that redevelopment is closer to becoming reality, he added.

Too, Hecht said, downtown businesses have expanded to meet growth and customer demands. "Our business was always been to improve downtown," he said. "All these things together filled buildings, redevelopment, constant improvement--make the future for Main street look brighter than any time in the last 50 years."

William A. Zickfield has been on Main street 42 years in his jewelry business, and recently renovated an adjoining building that houses a gift shop operated by his son.

Main street, he said, is strong because of the shops, their specialized merchandise and the merchant's pride of ownership in their buildings. "Keeping the buildings filled, keeping them maintained, is part of that," he said.

The recent surge toward redevelopment and toward individual store renovation projects is proof. Zickfield believes that there is not attitude of complacency among businessmen.

"Some years back, when the Town Plaza was built, I remember some merchants worrying about what would happen to our downtown. I think the only thing the Plaza did was help us. It brought in more shoppers to Cape, and that's good for everyone," he remarked.

Mr. and Mrs. Larry Foote, who operate Port Cape Girardeau along the city's riverfront, envision the downtown area as not only a shopping center, but eventually as an entertainment center as well.

The building they renovated for the restaurant is 140 years old. Although that in itself might have scared away many people. Foote said he considers the downtown area and the waterfront a "natural" for development.

"Any time you've got something by a river--in this case, THE major river--the possibilities are endless," he said.

Fred Ossick marked his 10th anniversary as a Main street merchant on Friday. His shoe store underwent a major expansion in 1973. "I almost feel like a native," he said. "The town's been good to me, and I hope I've been good for the town."

He said he has little worry that downtown will ever flounder "if we continue to be aggressive in improvements and continue to offer quality merchandise."

The interest that has been raised with construction of a mall here is surprising to Ossick only in that there hasn't been a mall here before. And he sees no reason why there shouldn't be room for both, a major western shopping area and the downtown area.

"We've got a natural thing down here with the river at our doorstep," he said. "We just haven't taken advantage of it." He, too, is hopeful that redevelopment plans will proceed and that the river--the city's number one tourist attraction--will be given the attention it deserves.

The stability of Main street is accentuated by the number of merchants who have been in business there more than a quarter century. Miss Jane Barnett and Miss Elaine Davis are n the 47th year of business in their jewelry boutique.

"As long as the Mississippi River and our high quality stores are here, we'll always have people downtown," Miss Barnett said.

She believes there is real interest now in developing Main as an attractive, unique shopping center. "Houston, St. Louis, St. Charles, many cities have focused attention on their downtown areas with good results," she said. "I think we should do the same."

"People who stop in here from out of town tell us we have a beautiful town. Main street is an important part of it, and always will be," she observed.

Jack Trickey, a men's clothier, concurs with Miss Barnett's opinion. "There will always be a Main street," he said. "We've got too many good stores down here to dry up and blow away. We're here to stay."

Glenn Hutson, president of Hutson Furniture Co., said Cape Girardeau has led the way in one important respect: "I've been all over the country, and I've found that 'Main streets' are coming back. Ours never went in the first place."

He recalls a day 20 years ago when he, along with some other Main street merchants, witnessed dedication ceremonies at the Town Plaza. "Some merchants asked us when we were coming out west," he said. "I said I thought we'd stay on Main street. They said, 'You'll be out here in five years.' Well, it's been 20 years, and I'm still right here, for life, I guess."

The success of Main street

The key to the success of Main street, Hutson believes, is it's in "individualistic stores. If you've been treated right, if the clerks and the management know you by your first name, that counts."

An interest in redevelopment is long overdue, Hutson believes. "I'd particularly like to see redevelopment in the northern end of the area," he said. "It could put a lot of life down here."

And as far as obtaining grants to proceed with such a program, Hutson added that "if you never get in line, you never get anything."

Mrs. Marie Howell has been an avid supporter of the downtown area since she opened The Lemon Tree some years ago.

There is a reason for pride in Main street, she said. "Many visitors in our shop are amazed to find that Main street is so clean, that shop owners are so friendly. You just don't see that much anymore."

Although she said the development of a mall, or any major shopping area, will temporarily affect existing business areas, she added that "as long as we have quality shops and quality lines, Main street will continue to thrive."

Redevelopment, she believes, will be "good not only for downtown, but for the town." She said she would like to see a highrise that would afford a view of the river constructed in the downtown area.

Savannah, Georgia's transformation of its riverfront area could be done in similar style here, she believes. "Once redevelopment is founded, the public is going to wake up to what we have here," she said. The downtown area has been held up by its merchants. People who move here are pleasantly surprised at what we have. Longtime residents tend to take it for granted.

"They said restoration of Old St. Vincent's Church couldn't be done," Mrs. Howell continued. "But it is in the process. If that can be restored--with literally a handful of people working on it--then anything is possible with our downtown area and all the people behind it."

Ron Wikel, manager of Brown Shoe Fit Co., commented, "We'll be down on Main street for probably the next 30 years. We don't go to malls."

Hugo Lang, a jeweler, said, "I'm staying right here. It takes all the spokes to make a wheel, and Main street is a very important spoke." Lang's Jewelry was founded in 1905 by his father, H.A. Lang.

The new mall, he said, will attract additional shoppers to the city. "That's good for all. Cape is a city with great prospects. I think there's plenty of room for everybody."

Louis Hecht, who was in the city last fall for the opening of Hecht's Too in a restored building at Main and Themis, likes to tell what Main street means to him.

He came here from Poplar Bluff in 1917, rented a room at the old St. Charles Hotel on Main and walked along the then-fledgling street. "I thought, 'This town doesn't look bad to me,'" he said.

Hecht shunned the advice of friends who urged him to relocate on Broadway "because everything was going west." Instead, he stayed on Main. "I wanted to be on Main street. It was a good street then. It still is. It always will be."


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  • WOW! this has been an awesome read! thanks...;-)

    -- Posted by tennisnut on Thu, Nov 12, 2015, at 4:22 PM